Worrying increase in illegal trapping and killing of songbirds in Cyprus

Tuesday 22 February 2022

We work with partners and authorities in the UK and Cyprus to stop the illegal killing of songbird migrating between Europe and Africa.

  • New figures from BirdLife Cyprus show an estimated 605,000 songbirds were trapped and killed in 6.5 km of mists nets within the survey area during Autumn 2021.
  • A relaxation in legislation in the Republic of Cyprus, with a reduction in fines relating to the use of limesticks, is believed to have incentivised trappers. The European Commission has expressed concerns about these law changes.
  • Increasing concerns of violence towards police and NGOs by organised criminal gangs, including a car bomb damaging a vehicle used by the NGO group CABS only last month.

Every autumn hundreds of thousands of songbirds such as robins, thrushes and blackcaps are illegally trapped and killed, before being sold via the black market to restaurants in the Republic of Cyprus for the local and expensive delicacy of ‘ambelopoulia’ or for home consumption.

Organised criminal gangs are driving this illegal activity on a huge scale and it is estimated they earn tens of thousands of Euros every year. The gangs target birds migrating between Europe and Africa, using electronic calls to lure them into mist nets placed between acacia bushes and within orchards, or use sticky limesticks to catch birds as they move around the vegetation.

To tackle this activity the Sovereign Base Area (SBA) authorities on the British military base have continued working closely with BirdLife Cyprus, the Committee Against Birds Slaughter (CABS) and the RSPB.

Although there was an increase from the 2020 trapping levels with mist nets (the lowest since the survey started in 2002) overall levels of trapping remain relatively low, and well below the peak in 2016. Three individuals caught on covert camera by RSPB are currently awaiting prosecution.

The report reveals that there was a 132% increase in recorded in trapping activity with mist nets in the Republic of Cyprus, which undoes the reduction recorded last year. This comes after a series of negative political developments in recent years. In December 2020, the Cyprus Parliament voted in relaxations reducing the on-the-spot fine for the illegal shooting and use of limesticks from €2000 per bird to €200 for up to 50 birds from a list of 14 species. These 14 species are the main target species for the illegal ambelopoulia songbird dish. In stark contrast, the SBA authorities have retained the fine of €2000 per bird for these species.

There is concern this relaxation of the law has incentivised the trappers. This is evidenced by the recent incidents of violence against activists of CABS and against a Cypriot police officer. These incidents and increases in trapping highlight the urgent need to reinstate the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit, which was abolished in November 2019, to deal with large, organized trappers.

In October 2021, the European Commission wrote to the Government of Cyprus expressing strong concerns that changes in the law will increase illegal trapping. The very low fines are not only non-deterrent and non-punitive but do not even reach the estimated black market price of € 90 for a dish of 12 ampelopoulia. The Commission has asked the Cypriot Government to provide further details on how these changes will be made, effectively monitored and enforced.

In November 2021, Birdlife Cyprus submitted an electronic petition signed by nearly 14,000 citizens and 22 BirdLife partners, to the Cyprus Parliament calling for the recent amendment of the law to be overturned.

Guy Shorrock, senior investigations officer at the RSPB said: “Across Europe the arrival of songbirds signals the start of summer for many people, and the song they bring is the soundtrack for warmer weather and longer evenings. However, over the last four decades European skies have lost around 600 million birds. So it is crucial we protect our migratory routes, islands like Cyprus are important gateways.

“We are grateful for the continued commitment of the SBA authorities; however it is clear there is still work to be done whilst the demand exists. Events in the Republic of Cyprus are particularly worrying and threaten the progress made to date. We hope increased pressure from the European Commission will encourage the authorities to crack down on the trappers and dramatically improve the sanctions available to the courts”.

Tassos Shialis, campaigns coordinator, BirdLife Cyprus said: "The recent law changes are a major setback to all the conservation and anti-trapping work that has been undertaken in Cyprus in the last 20 years. The low fines of 200 euros for up to 50 birds have, in essence, decriminalised the killing of migratory songbirds. As expected, we are already witnessing the impacts of this change, recording an increase in trapping levels for autumn 2021. We hope that the Cyprus Government will annul this law change, otherwise the Commission will have no other option but to initiate an infringement procedure against Cyprus for its lack of bird protection."

To find out more about how the RSPB is working with BirdLife Cyprus and both the British and Cypriot governments to protect songbirds on the island please visit our pages on Cyprus.

Tagged with: Country: Cyprus Topic: Birds Topic: Campaigns Topic: Conservation